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Us pilot says hes on terror watch list sues to save job

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Picture: (AFP/DDP/File/Roland Magunia)
British legend Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, performs during the Live Earth concert in Hamburg in 2007. A flight from London with Yusuf Islam on board was diverted and forced to land in Maine when US officials became aware that Islam was on board. The ACLU says the US government’s terrorist watch list has swollen into a catalogue of a million names in the after 9/11.

A commercial airline pilot and convert to Islam who says his name is on the U.S. government’s secret terrorist watch list has fought back, filing a federal lawsuit against the Homeland Security Department and various other federal agencies.

Erich Scherfen says that unless his name is removed from the list, he faces losing not only his job but the ability to make a living in his chosen profession.

Scherfen told reporters yesterday after his lawyers filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, that "his livelihood depends on being off this list."

He alleges that the government’s actions have violated his and his wife’s constitutional rights. The suit seeks a hearing and a decision before he is scheduled to lose his job on Sept. 1.

A New Jersey native, Scherfen, 37, says he believes his name was placed on a watch list because he converted to Islam in 1994 – even though he is a Gulf War combat veteran. Both he and his Pakistan-born wife, who is also a Muslim, they have no criminal records or ties to terrorists.

In their lawsuit, the couple says they have been repeatedly subjected to searches, questioning and detention at airports and border crossings since 2006. Ticket agents and others have made vague references to their names being on lists, but there was no clear explanation for the extra scrutiny.

Scherfen says he learned that he was a "positive match" on a list maintained by the Transportation Security Administration in April, when his employer, Colgan Air Inc, suspended him for that reason.

Scherfen had worked for the airline for about a year when he was suspended, a Colgan spokesman confirmed.

The couple says their attempts to resolve the situation through the government have been unsuccessful.

The Justice Department declined comment on the lawsuit and says in a statement that the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, "for both national security and personal privacy reasons," does not confirm or deny the existence of any name on the watch lists that it maintains.